Imperious Ahly crush Esperance to reach Champions League final

Hatem Maher , Sunday 27 Jun 2021

Ahly edge closer to a record-extending 10th Champions League crown after demolishing North African rivals Esperance in Cairo

Ali Maaloul (L) celebrates the opener with his teammates (Photo: Ahram)

Holders Ahly put Tunisia's Esperance to the sword with a ruthless display of attacking football in the second half to reach the African Champions League final for a second straight season with an impressive 3-0 home win on Saturday.  

Ahly were initially cautious but made the most of a red-card to Esperance's Ilyes Chetti on the stroke of halftime to run riot after the break and complete an emphatic 4-0 aggregate victory.

Chetti was sent off for a last-man foul on Ahly winger Taher Mohamed Taher and Tunisian full-back Ali Maaloul dispatched the resulting penalty after a VAR review, leaving Esperance with an uphill climb.

Esperance needed to score two goals without reply to advance. However, with 10 men on the field, they were given a footballing lesson by a vibrant Ahly side.

Two inviting balls from in-form playmaker Magdi Afsha laid two goals on a plate for forward Mohamed Sherif, who scored the first-leg's only goal, and substitute Hussein El-Shahat.

Ahly could have added more goals but they did enough to avenge a 3-0 loss to Esperance in the 2018 final and close in on a record-extending 10th Champions League crown.

They will face Kaizer Chiefs in next month's decider in Casablanca after the South Africans reached their first ever final with a shock 1-0 aggregate victory over Morocco's Wydad.

Conservative tactics

Ahly stuck to the conservative tactics they employed in the first leg, playing with three central midfielders and sitting back for large spells to soak up pressure.

The strategy left Esperance with little room to operate, with the visitors restricted to a solitary first-half chance on 28 minutes when Abdelraouf Benguit's skidding shot forced a superb save from towering goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawi.

At the other end, Ahly relied on breakaways, which resulted in the penalty that proved decisive.

A flowing move saw Taher exchange passes with Mohamed Sherif before outrunning Chetti as both tussled for the ball.

Chetti hauled back Taher, with Cameroonian referee Alioum Alioum pointing to the spot and red-carding the Esperance full-back after checking a video replay.

Spot-kick specialist Maaloul fired into the roof of the net, with Ahly then opening the floodgates and ensuring there would be no let-ups for a hapless Esperance side.

In the 56th minute, Afsha's defence-splitting pass found Sherif to turn and hit a powerful left-foot shot home from inside the area.

El-Shahat completed the rout four minutes later, neatly controlling another pinpoint long ball from Afsha to break the offside trap and dink the ball over keeper Moez Ben Cherifia.

Ahly wasted further chances to extend their lead but it mattered little as they qualified for the final for a record-extending 14th time.

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